The sun is far from us: we can’t tell day from night. The black sky is a mouth that has swallowed the moon and stars. There is nothing green now. The bare tree branches are upturned claws. The apples on the counter form a row of shrunken heads. On the news, there are images of sea animals washed up on empty beaches or drowning in oil or strangled by plastic soda can rings. The birds have all flown south—our world is without song.
I can’t sleep again. Next to him in bed, my chest aches like heartburn but sharper. I run my hand in circles to pinpoint where it hurts. What I find is a crooked rib, wobbling beneath my skin like a loose tooth, poking me with its thorny end. But I can’t stop my fingers from pressing on it over and over until a small, bloodless hole blooms on my chest, and the stark white bone emerges into my open palm. It only hurts a little. The skin heals itself like a wave smoothing over sand, leaving a raised white scar where my hand had been. I place the rib on the nightstand, propped up against the lamp like a message.
I sit on the edge of the bed, putting my clothes back on, cursing the dress with all its buttons, recalling the exquisite pleasure it had been to take off, that slow burn. How we had watched each other, both shadow and figure in the candlelight, unashamed. But before the last button came undone, all the candles had melted down to wicks, and all the lightbulbs had flickered out. We moved in darkness. We had to imagine our bodies.
I slip out the door and tiptoe through the womblike dark, heels in hand to avoid making noise. I slide my feet into the shoes at the end of the hall. I smooth my hair down. I go to wipe the smudged liner from under my eyes.
As I touch the doorknob, on my way to leaving him forever, my flesh—the whole of it—begins to tremble, to slide down my body the way the dress had been removed earlier. I can no longer see or feel. I am vibration and movement. My skin is no longer skin but abstraction and potential that curves into shoulder, loop, and neck, swirls around an eye and up to a stem, descends and slopes like a hip, straightens, bends, and twists with a flourish into a tail, pauses for a breath—the gentle curl of a comma—and begins another path. I am the flesh becoming words. These words.
Amanda Miskalives and writes in Northern Virginia. Her work has been featured in Whiskey Paper, Buffalo Almanack, CHEAP POP, jmww, The Collapsar, Storychord, Five Quarterly, Cartridge Lit, Cactus Heart, Pea River Journal, and elsewhere. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Split Lip Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @akmiska.